Removing Food Stains From Clothing Effectively and Inexpensively

by Reader Contributors

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Prolong the life of your clothes with these inexpensive, yet effective tips and tricks from our frugal readers for getting food stains out of clothing.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
Both my husband and I work as food servers in nice restaurants. Naturally, we need to look good and dress well. Food stains are a frequent problem.

What’s the best way to remove food stains from our clothing? Our budget needs our work clothes to last as long as possible. Ideally, the stains can be removed without too much work. We’re both tired after a full shift on our feet.

Dish Liquid Does the Job

I keep a spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide and blue Dawn dish soap by my washing machine. The mixture is about half hydrogen peroxide and half Dawn. I spray it on and very lightly rub it in with my fingers. It always removes the stains.

Occasionally, I have to treat the stain twice, but it always comes out. I’ve even sprayed stained items that had been through the dryer and the stains still came out.

Remove Food Stains With Baking Soda and Vinegar

Use Arm & Hammer™ laundry detergent with baking soda, or add 1/2 cup of baking soda to your detergent. Then add 2/3 cup white vinegar to the rinse. This removes 95% of stains, even dried ones, without having to hunt and spray. Also, this really brightens up clothing and will not hurt colors.

If this doesn’t work, I’ll wash the stain again and spray with Resolve® stain remover, which works great. But again, this is rarely needed.
Sharon (via Facebook)

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Another Vote for Dawn

The best method of treatment that I have found for stains is the original blue Dawn dish soap. Put a dab of Dawn on the stains; when you wash clothes, the stains will disappear. It has never failed me.

It Really Works!

Shout® Ultra in the spray bottles is a lifesaver when it comes to set-in stains! You can even spray the stains on the article and toss it in the laundry basket to be washed later with no fading or residue. It’s a product that really does work!

Remove Food Stains with Ivory®

I got this tip from a cafeteria manager in our local middle school. Use a wet bar of regular white soap like Ivory®. Rub into the fabric with the grain and wash as usual. Check before drying. Hard stains may take more than one wash, but usually once is enough.

Even if the item was dried, I have gone back and repeated this and saved an item.

Good for Polyester

Make a paste of baking soda and water and rub it into the stain. Let it sit for a few days. Then wash in the machine. This is especially good for polyester.
Donna V.

Safe and Economical

Castile soap is the best thing I found to remove stains without any scrubbing. I keep some in a small bottle with a spout, squeeze some on stains when needed, and allow the clothing item to soak overnight. This is especially great for greasy stains. The next day, I wash as usual with other laundry. If the stains are fruit related, I squeeze some hydrogen peroxide before throwing it in the wash.

Castile soap is not only great for laundry but has many other uses and is economical. There is no need for harsh chemicals on your clothes or body.

Get at Stains Quickly

The best way to remove food stains is to treat them as soon as possible.

I keep an “arsenal” in my laundry area to deal with stains. Most useful are commercial stain removers (consider the individual packets or sticks to keep at work for quick treatment of new stains), ammonia, old-fashioned bar laundry soap and unseasoned meat tenderizer. I also keep a guide to removing stains handy. You can buy a book or print out a guide from the internet.

Meat tenderizer works wonders on protein-based stains. Bar laundry soaps are great for pre-treating stubborn stains. Just dampen the cloth and the bar and rub the clothing with the soap. Let stand a bit and then wash.

WD-40® can get out some greasy stains. Test in a hidden spot first. I have also found products that can be sprayed on greasy stains to be very useful. Ammonia is very useful for sweat stains from those hectic days at work.

With just a little attention, you should be able to get out almost every conceivable food stain. Just be sure never to put an item in the dryer until you are sure that the stain is gone.
Barbara in CT

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Hydrogen Peroxide Works!

I use hydrogen peroxide full strength right on the stain, gently scrub it in with a kitchen brush or toothbrush, let it sit for at least 30 minutes, and then wash as usual.

For extra benefits on color wash, I put hydrogen peroxide in the bleach compartment.

My stain-removing method has worked for everything up to and including blood. It also works to get odors out of gym clothes.

Mix Your Own Pretreat Solution

I make my own laundry pretreat solution. This one is best for food stains. Just spray it on the clothes and place it in the hamper and/or washer.

1/2 cup of Dawn® (blue color only)
1/2 cup Hydrogen Peroxide
2 TBSP Baking Soda

Mix all ingredients well and place in a spray bottle. I have witnessed this work on fabric stains I thought were hopeless.

The Power of Oxygen in Removing Food Stains

For food stains and other bad stains from working in a shop or outside, I found a great way to remove them. Wet the stain and sprinkle on OxiClean™ powder. Soak the stain in just enough water to cover the stain overnight. Wash the clothing item the next day and the stain should be gone. It works for me!

Speaking from Experience

I worked as a server and bartender for over 20 years and understand your dilemma. As soon as you get home from work, change out of your work clothes. Run a bar of Fels-Naptha® soap (found in the laundry section of your grocery or superstore) under water. Rub the wet soap over your stains and let the item sit overnight. In the morning, cold wash the item and dry as usual. Most stains (including red wine, ink stains, and most food) will disappear.
Pam in IL

Removing Food Stains From Clothing with an Overnight Soak

Mix 1/2 cup powdered dishwashing detergent with 1/2 cup color-safe bleach in a household bucket. Fill 3/4 of the way full with very hot water. Make sure the powders are dissolved and then throw the clothes in the bucket and allow to soak overnight. The next day, dump everything in the washer and wash as usual.

I usually finish filling the load with any additional laundry I have lying around. If the clothing is colored and you are worried about colors bleeding, you can use cold water, but it does not work as well. I have used this for years for my children’s clothing. It has worked wonders.

Reviewed October 2023

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